Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ready For The Genung Syndrome?

     Many thanks to Dr. Jennifer Soyke of Eugene, OR for finally putting a catchy name on that process which nobody wants to think about, much less talk about – death and dying. In her recent essay in the Journal of the American Medical Association, she recalls a visit with  an elderly patient who was dying at home, surrounded by her friends and family.

         “She looked patrician, elevated and transported, and then was gone. When the family discussed what she had actually died of, they decided her end of life couldn’t be summed up in a medical diagnosis, which seemed incongruent with her whole long life and spirit. They finally decided that she had died of “Genug Syndrome”, a word in Yiddish meaning ‘Enough!’, or usually, ‘Enough, already!’”

         When you look up the phrase on your computer you will find dozens of references to Dr. Soyke’s new quasi-medical phrase. Even the august Chicago Tribune’s blog has written about it and published readers’ responses to it.

         One response especially struck me: “Can we start to educate ourselves and others to say ‘Genug’ when life becomes too difficult to sustain? Can we help each other grow up and accept the reality of death? We need to talk about these issues while we are still active and well.”

The Denial of Death

         Awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1974, “The Denial of Death” was Dr. Ernest Becker’s brilliant and impassioned book, the culmination of his life’s work and philosophy. In it he calls for humankind to celebrate everyone’s impending death by enriching every moment throughout each person’s life.

         Dr. Becker confronts the universal aversion of thinking or talking about the absolute inevitability of death, of ceasing to exist, of the end of our consciousness, our being, our ego. This denial of our ultimate demise takes an enormous toll on every day of our lives. The denial of this ultimate reality can effectively kill an essential part of what makes us human. As a result, we lose our ability to fully accept our gift of life; this reduces the courage required to do the work and take the risks of a fully-lived life.


         A Fully-Lived Life

         What does it require? Shall we allow our denial of our eventual death to mar our rich and deep complexity, our unlimited potential for living life? This denial reduces who we are and relegates us to a mere medical diagnosis at the end. Even as we take our last breath, we are indeed more than just the breakdown of multiple organ systems.

         We can be the satisfying culmination of a rich life and a proud legacy. We can be, even at the very last moment, elevated and transported, and then be gone like a whisper… leaving the sweet music of a fully lived life, eternally reverberating in the minds and hearts of all those that knew us and loved us.

         When we are finished, may we, each of us,, and all our dear friends and loving family, say “Enough, already!”

May we all die of ‘The Genug Syndrome’.


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